The baklava's too good. Freshly baked, layered perfectly, and a surprisingly large portion for two bucks and change. And if its honey-tinged yumminess merely taunts me, the subsequent sip of amazing espresso is a flat-out slap in the face.
Their pastries are amazing. Their coffee is superlative. The situation is dire.
I note all of this. But I don't write it down. No need to make it obvious I'm a spy.
No one's sure just when The New Place appeared. The vacant storefront it took over was a Winnenco Township mainstay, notable not for any particular retail outlet but rather a succession of them. One year it hosted Baskin Robbins, the next Subway, the next a weird pita shop. None of them succeeded; what business possibly could, in foodservice's graveyard of empires? So it sat there, festooned with (far too optimistic) FOR LEASE signs and absent of life, a warning to any franchisees with funny ideas.
Somebody ignored the warning, dusted off the tombstones, put up marble countertops and dragged in charming tables. Truck after truck brought in things and stuff. Like meerkats we peeked above our towering espresso bar, leaning towards the windows to get a better view of our new enemy.
A new cafe. Across the street. From an eighteen year old Starbucks. The cockiness, the bravado, the balls of the idea: open a coffeeshop across from the only coffeeshop in town? Who did these people think they were? We watched The New Place rise with a mix of hostility and awe.
"I heard they've got special beans," said Tucco. He was our newest, a student by day, barista by night, pizza guy by weekend. He all but pressed himself against the promo-overlay-covered windows. "Local beans." I said nothing in response, busying myself sweeping off the coffee grinder. As the Shift, I couldn't involve in the petty distractions of everyday barista life.
"Dead in a week." The cigarette-tinted apathy in Jenna's voice was at odds with her dollish blonde looks. She said it over her shoulder, pretending to be occupied stocking the bean wall.
"They have a TV!" said Tucco. He pointed out the flatscreen a woman, probably the owner, was fiddling with inside The New Place.
Apathy vanished from Jenna's eyes, replaced at once by avarice. "What? They get a TV?"
A TV? I clutched the grinder to keep from trembling. The unfairness of it all: we couldn't even check our phones when the store was empty; we couldn't read a newspaper before open because of the cameras; if we thought about leaning, we'd get back to cleaning. And these people, these...usurpers, had their own TV?
"I'd better check it out," I said. I'd like to think I sounded steely, determined. But you can only seem so Clint Eastwood when you're wearing a cheery red Christmas apron. I ditched it, threw on a coat over my Starbucks colors, and headed out into enemy territory.
The 42 inch plasma beside my table rotates a series of images: harvesting beans. Transporting beans. Roasting beans. There's a mustachioed man, hands full of green coffee cherries, smiling out at me from the wall, and then there is a black cup of coffee, wreathed in inviting steam. It's a slide show. No channels. Thank God: the TV is just wall art.
But this food, this coffee, they're problems. Problems only I, the Shift, can solve.
And I'd better solve them soon; my lunch ends in five minutes.
man. writing noir is hard.